The Seventh Seal – Silence in Heaven – Revelation 8:1

This seal has caused far more debate among commentators than any other. There are dozens of plausible (and not a few implausible) suggestions for what this short period of silence means. It is possible this is simply a rhetorical pause, the calm before the storm.

Some see it connected to the Jewish practice of silent prayer, which is connected to incense burning found in the same context as the silence. In the context of chapter 8 this is possible, since the angels are lighting incense in the temple of God. David Aune offers several rabbinic texts implying a ritual silence was practiced during the burning of the incense (m. Tamid 5:1-6 does not explicitly say that the incense was offered in silence; 2:508). This suggestion has some merit, since silence is associated with worship of God in the Old Testament (Psalm 46:10) and even among the Greeks (Thucydides, for example).

Thuc 6.32.1  The ships being now manned, and everything put on board with which they meant to sail, the trumpet commanded silence, and the prayers customary before putting out to sea were offered, not in each ship by itself, but by all together to the voice of a herald; and bowls of wine were mixed through all the armament, and libations made by the soldiers and their officers in gold and silver goblets.

Greg Beale observes silence is associated with Gods judgment. The nations are silenced when they fall under God’s judgment (Revelation, 446). In Isaiah 47:5 Babylon is told to “sit in silence,” in Ezekiel 27:32, Tyre is silenced. Zephaniah 1:17 the day of the Lord is an occasion for silence because it is like a sacrifice to the Lord.

Isaiah 47:5 “Sit in silence, go into darkness, Daughter of the Babylonians; no more will you be called queen of kingdoms.

Ezekiel 27:32 As they wail and mourn over you, they will take up a lament concerning you: “Who was ever silenced like Tyre, surrounded by the sea?”

Zephaniah 1:7 Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.

Both silence in judgment and silence as worship appear in the pseudepigrapha. In 1 Enoch 18:2, Enoch sees the fifth heaven where encounters the innumerable armies called Grigori” (the watchers) who had turned aside from the Lord. The gigantic beings are perpetually silent and “there was no liturgy in the fifth heaven.” In 4 Ezra 7:30, after the messiah dies “the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days.”

The Letter of Aristeas describes Temple worship as “well ordered silence” (92), “a general silence reigns, so that one might think that there was not a single man in the place although the number of ministers in attendance is more than seven hundred” (95).  The Testament of Adam begins with a list of the twelve hours, concluding with “the twelfth hour is the waiting for incense, and silence is imposed on all the ranks of fire and wind until all the priests burn incense to his divinity” (1.12). Notice the connection between silence (Rev 8:1) and incense (Rev 8:2-5).

I think it is best to see the seventh seal, trumpet, and bowl as parallel. Just prior to God’s intervention to defeat his enemies (the seventh bowl), there will be worship in heaven. First, this is silence, but it is followed by loud worship. Revelation 12:15 says when the seventh trumpet sounds, there were “loud voices in heaven” because the kingdom of God has come.

Why “about a half an hour?”  Once again, there are dozens of suggestions. It is a short and indefinite time, much like Daniel 4:16,19, Daniel was amazed and struck with silent awe for about an hour. Later in Revelation, several judgements all take place within an hour (18:10, 17, 19).

6 thoughts on “The Seventh Seal – Silence in Heaven – Revelation 8:1

  1. This was an interesting read. Even today when we spend time in prayer it usually in silence. When reading this post there is a huge importance intuit silence plays in worship. What is interesting is that the silence is only in heaven (8:1). This does not mean things were silent on earth. Silence is an uncomfortable thing fo bus today however when you read the OT silence was a sense of reverence and respect to the Lord. Even today moments of silence are used to remember either people we hold in high regard and in remembrance of a tragic event that has happened.

  2. I have always found the opening of the seventh seal to be one of the most chilling events in the entire Bible, not just in the book of Revelation. There are many frightening images in Revelation, but there are few that seem especially frightening in the sense that they go against a very prominent theme of Christianity. I had always envisioned that the presence of God is always filled with ceaseless praise and song, as it is described in Revelation four and five. However, once the seventh seal is broken, all of that stops. A place that is full of ceaseless praise to God stops and goes silent for thirty minutes. This has always like a “calm before the storm” as P. Long describes—all of heaven quietly waiting, or perhaps even mourning, the tribulation that is about to be unleashed upon the earth. It doesn’t seem out of place for this to take place, as so many of the Old Testament prophets describe the end times (the Day of the Lord) as a horrible time for anyone. Amos 5:18 proclaims woe onto those who await it; Joel 2 describes it as “a day of darkness and gloom.”

  3. It seems to me like there are plenty of reasonable options for what the silence in heaven could represent, with all of the examples shared here fitting that standard. The one that jumped out at me the most was silence being related to God’s judgement. There are a number of actual Biblical examples to support that idea, which isn’t necessarily true for other potential explanations. Silence is something that we incorporate into our spiritual lives even today, using it both in groups and personally as a space for prayer, reflection, and meditation. Maybe this is another potential explanation, that the silence serves as a time for reflection before the kingdom of God is fulfilled. This is just another one of those things that we won’t fully understand the true meaning until it happens. I also thought the parallels between Revelation and the Testament of Adam were interesting. Jason Matson points out that neither John and Adam describe the significance of the silence. “They assume instead that their readers will know what it signifies” (Matson 84). Maybe the people of John’s time knew exactly what he meant by the silence or had more context for it than we do. Either way, it clearly plays a role in God’s plan, otherwise John would not have recorded it.

  4. looking at how loud worship is all over the book of Revelation, it gives a feeling of uneasisnes to suddenly have that suspense of silence before the seventh seals is opened. “There’s no specific reason given for the silence of the angelic host, but there is a tradition within Judaism that say that the angels will be silent in-order for the prayers of Israel to rise to God’s throne,” (Reading Revelation). Maybe this was at the reason this silence was taking place.
    But I love this observation, “Just prior to God’s intervention to defeat his enemies (the seventh bowl), there will be worship in heaven. First, this is silence, but it is followed by loud worship. Revelation 12:15 says when the seventh trumpet sounds, there were “loud voices in heaven” because the kingdom of God has come,” (P. Long). As this silent is taking place there souls praying although you can hear them praying, they are not interrupting the silence. I believe this was just a way for just giving God there glory for fulfilling His promises to his chosen people.

Leave a Reply